Glastonbury Pictures, Somerset, England

Glastonbury Tor and a cricket match, Somerset, England

Glastonbury Tor hovering above a cricket match on a typical English summer’s day. Photo by Harrias.

What is Glastonbury Tor?

Glastonbury, Somerset, England, UK

The path running from the Tor down to Glastonbury town.

A tor is a conical hill in the Celtic language and Glatonbury’s rises out of the Somerset plain in England’s south west. It is the scene of a plethora of myths and legends, including the most popular – that it is the site of King Arthur’s homebase, Avalon.
Neo-hippies, Neopagans, New Ageists, party people and music lovers of all sorts, on the other hand, know the area as the site of the legendary, mud-spattered and annual Glastonbury Music Festival which is actually situated in Pilton, some 7 miles away from Glastonbury town, and nothing to do with the Tor, apart from being embedded in the same mud on rainy days!

Currently garnished by St Michael’s Tower – the last remnant of a medieval church – the Tor shows signs of fortified occupation over many hundreds of years, from primitive earth defences in Neolithic times (early Britons are believed to have called the place ‘Ynys yr Afalon‘), through Roman forts to sturdy churches.

One enduring Glastonbury mystery resides in the seven terraces circling the Tor.
Some think that these were constructed for crop development purposes, but this does not explain why the sunless north side – where little would grow – sports the same rings.

Farmers say that grazing cattle can trample out terraces over considerable time but knowledgeable rural folk point out that in that case the rings would be less defined and more more aligned with the contours of the hill.

The Tor

Glastonbury Tor interior view, Somerset, England

The Tor interior view. Photo by JosepRenalias.

An obvious possibility is that the terraces were the remains of defensive earthworks but the traditional Neolithic earth fort involved three ditches fronting three banks of earth while Glastonbury Tor appears to comprise only simple terraces with little defensive capability. In addition, the space on top of the defended area (the Tor) was too small to support a village. See Maiden Castle pictures for traditional Neolithic earthworks.

A final theory is that the Tor markings form a labyrinth, a popular though laborious concept in Neolithic days. And the purpose of a labyrinth would be. . . ?

Ley lines

Some people (with heads firmly in the sky) believe that Glastonbury Tor lies on spiritual/mystical Ley lines, connecting it to other magical global locations such as Easter Island or the Great Pyramids of Giza, Egypt.

Lovely feel-good theory but archeologists point out that ancient cultures used straight paths between important points, whether they be towns or pyramids, obviously because that would be the shortest distance. In addition it’s not too difficult to connect the worldwide super-culture/artifact dots with lines, especially if you’re flying at hyper-velocity in an outsize saucer and your brain evolved on Pluto.

Coming down from Glastonbury Tor, England

The view of Glastonbury town from the Tor.

Glastonbury Town

Glastonbury town centre, Somerset, England

Town centre.

This is a very small, very old town, dating back to neolithic times.
Both Iron Age and Bronze Age artefacts have been found in the vicinity and records show that a King of England – Edmund Ironside – was crowned here in 1016.
Note that the Glastonbury Festival, perhaps the world’s greatest annual music festival, does not take place here, but in Pilton several miles away.

The ruins of Glastonbury Abbey, Somerset, England

The ruins of Glastonbury Abbey, 7th century. Photo by Nilfanion.

Glastonbury History, or should that be legend?

Some legends suggest Glastonbury Abbey was founded even earlier, in the 1st century by Joseph of Arimathea, a wealthy disciple of Jesus who took Him off the cross and arranged a suitable burial in his own cave/tomb.

It is thought that the medieval monks promoted the idea that Glastonbury was Avalon, King Arthur’s mythical seat of power. Medieval writers claimed that the area was called the Isle of Avalon because it was surrounded by marshland and grew fine apples – Ynys Afallach means Island of Apples in Welsh. In 1136 the Historia Regum Britanniae (A History of Kings of Britain) asserted that King Arthur’s famous sword, Excalibur, was forged in Avalon.
However, historians believe that monks concocted tales of Glastonbury as Arthur’s base in order to boost funds for extending and repairing the abbey. No grave or remains associated with Arthur has ever been found in the area.
Some writers claim that Avalon was actually St Michael’s Mount in Cornwall, or Avallon in Burgundy, France.

The Abbey was a tremendously rich and powerful land owner in the 14th century but shortly after King Henry VIII became the Head of the Church of England and supressed the Catholic church he decided to have the last Abbot hanged, drawn and quartered at Glastonbury Tor. End of story.

Chalice Well, Seven Bowls Pool, Glastonbury, Somerset, England

Chalice Well, Seven Bowls Pool.

The Chalice Well at the base of the Tor is a natural spring that has never failed and is believed to possess healing powers, though the waters are an unattractive red colour due to iron oxide deposits. Neopagans believe the Tor represents the male deity and the Chalice Well the female deity, but whatever the beliefs, the Well is popular with all faiths and is now classified as a World Peace Garden.